A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeye's fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from May 15, 2021
“Cashier in supermarket: You have 12 items. This is the 10 items only queue. Can’t you read?” (joke)

Many supermarkets have a checkout for “10 items or less” or “12 items or less.” A person with more items who goes to that checkout either can’t read or can’t count—or is an asshole.

A now-classic joke has such a person do this at a supermarket in Cambridge or Boston, Massachusetts, where MIT is a famous engineering school and Harvard University is famous for a liberal arts education. The cashier says that she doesn’t know if the student is from MIT and can’t read, or from Harvard and can’t count. The joke was printed in the Los Angeles (CA) Times on October 23, 1966.

“There are 3 types of people with more than 10 items in the ‘10 Items or Less’ lane; People who can’t read, people who can’t count, and assholes” was posted on Reddit—Showerthoughts on January 31, 2018.

“Cashier in supermarket: You have 12 items. This is the 10 items only queue. Can’t you read? Customer: Yes. But I can’t count” was posted on Twitter by Spod1000 on October 27, 2020.


Newspapers.com
23 October 1966, Los Angeles (CA) Times, “Kooks in the Nighttime Make It the Frighttime” by Matt Weinstock, pg. G-&, col. 3:
This age-of-specialization story was told to Ted Gordon by his son-in-law, William I. Thompson, an instructor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

A student with a loaded grocery cart came to the check stand designated “Ten Items or Under” in a Boston supermarket.

The clerk glanced at the over-the-limit contents of the cart and remarked, “I don’t know whether you’re from MIT and can’t read or from Harvard and can’t count.”

Newspapers.com
9 November 1966, Wichita (KS) Beacon, “Talk of the Town” by Don Granger, pg. 12C, cols. 1-2:
FAVORITE STORY (of the past 24 hours) concerns a studious-looking fellow who pushed a heavy-laden shopping cart up to a check-out stand in a Boston supermarket.

Only trouble was—there was a big sign at that particular check-out stand announcing that it was to be used only by shoppers with 10 items—or less.

The clerk took a look at the 50 or more items in the studious fellow’s car and said:

“I don’t know whether you’re from Harvard and can’t read or whether you’re from MIT and can’t count.”
(The schools should be switched.—ed.)

Google Books
Reporting Human Behavior
By Philip Meyer
Grand Forks, ND: Department of Journalism, University of North Dakota
1972
Pg. 210:
STATISTICS In the textbook department of the Harvard Cooperative Society, a check-out counter was once reserved for express customers, those with five items or less. A student who blundered into the line with an armful of a dozen books is said to have been asked, “What are you—an M.I.T. type who can’t read or a Harvard type who can’t count?”

Google Groups: comp.sys.mac.programmer
Looking for creator…
Edward Rice
Oct 18, 1991, 8:23:39 PM
(...)
This reminds me (I’m sorry—I’m not mad at you and I’m not flaming, I’m just kind of amused!) of a joke about a supermarket in Cambridge, Mass (where they MAY have run into jjstephens). The checkout clerk at one of the express lines looked up to see a student-age person unloading a large basket full of stuff—far more than the limited number of items permitted in that line. Snapping her gum, she looked the student squarely in the eye and said, “Are you from MIT and can’t read, or Harvard, and can’t count?”

Google Groups: alt.tasteless.jokes
MIT/Harvard joke
Unknown
Apr 19, 1993, 6:37:49 PM
So the Harvard english major and MIT enginner are gocery shopping. They both get in the express, 10 items or less, with 20 items in there shopping carts. The clerk proceeds to ring up the Harvard man, and counts 20 items. He asks him, “Why do you have 20 items in your cart.” To which the Harvard man answers, “I’m an english major and I can’t count.” The clerk then proceeds to ring up the MIT man and counts 20 items again. He also asks, “Why do you 20 items in your cart.” The MIT engineer replies, “I’m an MIT engineer an I can’t read.”

Anyone want to improve the delivery of this joke?

Twitter
Tim O’Brien
@oberazzi
@pogue MIT, Harvard kid in express lane at grocery. Both have > 12 items. MIT can’t read, Harvard can’t count.
10:44 AM · Mar 18, 2009·Twitter Web Client

Twitter
Scott Edelman
@scottedelman
Stuck in a 12-items-or-less supermarket line behind someone who either can’t read, can’t count, or doesn’t care. I’m voting for the latter.
11:59 AM · Dec 4, 2010·Echofon

Reddit—Showerthoughts
Posted by u/whydoyouflask January 31, 2018
There are 3 types of people with more than 10 items in the “10 Items or Less” lane; People who can’t read, people who can’t count, and assholes.

Twitter
Warren Terra
@warren__terra
Replying to @tolfoster and @MPAVictoria
Cambridge, MA joke.
A young student type has confidently rolled up to the “12 items or less” lane with their cart that obviously has a couple dozen items in it. The teller looks at their cart, at them, and asks: “OK, which is it? Harvard, and can’t count, or MIT, and can’t read?”
9:48 PM · May 4, 2018·Twitter Web Client

Twitter
Seth Gordon
@ImagFamValues
Replying to @lieutenantkije
Classic joke from the other Cambridge: A college student brings a heavily loaded shopping cart into the “12 items or less“ line. The cashier looks at the cart, looks at the student, and says “Either you’re from MIT and you can’t read, or you’re from Harvard and you can’t count.”
11:52 AM · Mar 29, 2020·Twitter Web App

Twitter
Spod1000
@spod1000
Cashier in supermarket
You have 12 items
This is the 10 items only queue
Can’t you read?
Customer
Yes
But I can’t count
11:03 AM · Oct 27, 2020·Twitter Web App

Facebook
That made me laugh
December 5, 2020 at 3:27 PM ·
Cashier in supermarket:
You have 12 items. This is the 10 items only queue. Can’t you read?
Customer: Yes. But I can’t count.

Twitter
Steven
@stevehotspurs
Cashier in supermarket:
You have 12 items. This is the 10 items only queue. Can’t you read?
Customer: Yes. But I can’t count. Smiling face
5:14 PM · Mar 13, 2021·Twitter for iPhone

Twitter
Shoeb Molvi
@ShoebMolvi
Cashier in supermarket:
You have 12 items. This is the 10 items only queue. Can’t you read?
Customer: Yes. But I can’t countEyes
5:26 AM · Mar 14, 2021·Twitter for iPhone

Twitter
𝓢𝓪𝓼𝓼𝔂 𝓢𝓪𝓿𝓿𝔂 𝓐𝓭𝓿𝓮𝓷𝓽𝓾𝓻𝓮𝓻
@SassysavvyLia
So I’ve just been to the supermarket & the grumpy cashier said:
‘You have 12 items.. This is the 10 items only queue..
Can’t you read?’
To which I smugly replied:
‘Yes.... But I can’t count’
#ThursdayThoughts
8:23 AM · Apr 22, 2021·Twitter for Android

Facebook
LES’S LAFFS
May 11, 2021 at 8:40 PM ·
Cashier in supermarket:
You have 12 items. This is the 10 items only queue. Can’t you read?
Customer: Yes. But I can’t count.

Twitter
Robert Wilkinson
@robertwlk
Supermarket cashier:
“You have 12 items, this is a 10 items only queue. Can’t you read?”
Me, “Yes, but I can’t count.”
6:35 AM · May 13, 2021·Twitter for Android

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityRestaurants/Bars/Coffeehouses/Food Stores • Saturday, May 15, 2021 • Permalink